The Future is to Learn, Unlearn & Relearn to Stay Ahead

Business leaders of today and tomorrow must follow this mantra if they want to be able to navigate the complexities and uncertainties of the business ecosystem at present and in the future. Alvin Toffler rightly said that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.

What Is Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning?

When we gather courage to recognise our very own knowledge gaps, limitations and willingness to broaden our perspectives and embrace changes, we can truly thrive and grow. The world regularly presents situations to all of us that require us to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Consider the demands placed on us to shift our approaches to work from home (WFH) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Professionals had to adapt to virtual communication and workflow management tools overnight. Responding to changes with agility and an open mind enables us to thrive in a world that is constantly changing.

Learning, Unlearning, Relearning Model

To stay relevant in one’s field, embracing learning, unlearning, and relearning model is critical. The rapid pace of change in nearly every field, from healthcare to IT, from education to business, new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are reshaping the work landscape, making once-useful skills obsolete. As a result, many jobs that existed only a few years ago have disappeared, and more jobs will likely disappear in the coming years. A 2020 World Economic Forum report forecasts that alongside large numbers of new jobs requiring new skills in the coming years, many employees will need to acquire new skillset and knowledge to stay in jobs and continue to perform their current jobs effectively.

Nevertheless, upskilling and reskilling can empower us to find our place in changing employment environment. Learning new skills can equip us to perform different jobs as old basic ones are eliminated or transformed. Learning additional skills to enhance one’s ability to perform their current job or adapt to changes in their industry also helps ensure job stability and success. For instance, marketing professionals will likely benefit from receiving training in data analytics to increase their utility in a field where the role of data has become increasingly important.

How to Embrace Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning?

What does successfully embracing the learning, unlearning, relearning model entail? To begin, this model doesn’t involve forgetting knowledge. Instead, it requires avoiding preconceived notions, assumptions and reflecting on one’s opinions, choices, and ways of doing things.

The following ways can help us adopt this nimble approach to learning:

1. Challenge Confirmation Bias

We all have a natural tendency to look for or interpret information that is consistent with beliefs we already posses. This confirmation bias typically makes us less open to discovering ideas and ways of doing things that challenge the status-quo. However, learning, unlearning, and relearning requires us to re-examine our own belief system and how we go about transforming it.

To improve our ability to adopt this learning approach, we can work on developing awareness of our confirmation bias. Then, we can seek out opinions different from our own. We can also challenge our confirmation bias by gathering information from various sources and discussing ideas with people from diverse backgrounds.

2. Develop a Growth Mindset

If we believe that we can develop our talent and skillset through constructive criticism, hard work, and strategic choices, we can achieve more than those who think talent is simply innate. A growth mindset makes us more likely to experiment with new ways of doing things, think out of the box, learn from our mistakes, and have a constant urge to seek feedback.

These behaviors all support our agenda for learning, unlearning, and relearning. One key way we can develop a growth mindset is through cultivating curiosity. This means replacing one’s reluctance or fear about not knowing something with a sense of wonder and excitement about the constant opportunities for learning and discovery that present themselves.

3. Ask Questions

The power of asking questions in both our work and personal life cannot be understated and let’s admit that this impacts almost every area of our lives and our careers. “Asking someone to share their experiences, their insights, or their passions with you causes a connection, and often a fondness, that is a powerful foundation for lasting relationships. It has been surprising and lovely the way that people feel close to me just from the questions I’ve asked. It has led to real friendships and even jobs.”, says Amanda Deibert, Television and comic book writer.

Asking more questions adds dimensions to people’s conversations and thought processes. It also helps uncover new information and can broaden one’s horizon. Questions play a key role in deeper learning. People’s ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn is often expanded or stunted by the questions they do or do not ask.

4. Focus on the Changing Trends

We need to make strategic choices when deciding what to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Their choices should align with specific goals, such as career advancement or personal growth. By staying aware of changing trends in one’s industry, e.g., a person can gain valuable insights about what new skills he/she needs to learn, what communication tactics he/she needs to unlearn, and what methods he/she needs to relearn.

Subscribing to and reading industry publications, joining professional networking apps and other platforms, and attending professional conferences and workshops can all help us keep up with new technologies and developments in our respective fields. We must understand that this can only be an individual’s personal desire to growth.

Learning for Life

Learning Agility offers us an excellent opportunity to retool our skillset. Whether pursuing an advanced degree from a business school or a professional certification in leadership, furthering our education can help us prepare for the latest demands in the given fields. Some companies take on this as a fundamental responsibility to up-skill their employees while others don’t but it should be an individual’s own aspiration to outshine and be seen as an aspiring leader for tomorrow.

Through thoughtfully designed curriculum and instruction from industry leaders, individuals returning to business schools have numerous opportunities to reskill and upskill. This can help professionals either forge successful career changes or develop the expertise needed to stay relevant in their fields.

Final Word

It goes without saying that we all need to improve our performance in our current roles, prepare for future roles, develop our current expertise and broaden our horizon for future. This can only happen if we continue to keep abreast ourselves on what is happening around us i.e., our business, our industry, locally and globally.

More than ever, there is a need to continue to learn. But in our ‘always on’ world, it’s a challenge to know what to learn. To help us focus, explore and achieve our short term, medium term and long-term goals, it is inevitable to open up our minds.


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